Micro-Season: “The Earth Becomes Damp”

Snowmelt from spruce branches
falls as steady as rain and 
Ahead a red cardinal disappears
Into the branches of another, 
(Excerpt from “Melting” by Gigi Marks)

We have entered the micro-season of “The Earth Becomes Damp”.  This is the first micro-season of the mini season of Rain Water.  Each micro-season is about five days in length and highlights a slight change in the natural environment.  The micro-seasons contained within Rain Water are:

  • The Earth Becomes Damp (Feb 19-Feb 23)
  • Haze First Covers the Sky (Feb. 24 – Feb 28)
  • Plants Show Their First Buds (Mar 01 – Mar 04)) 

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to the climate of Japan.  However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean that it isn’t applicable to others.  They can become a starting point for a personal exploration into the world around you. 

“The Earth Becomes Damp” signifies the beginning of the winter thaw.  It is during this time that the average daily temperature increases, and it is more likely to rain than snow. However, with the ground still being frozen, the melting snow and rain water flow directly into the rivers and streams. As the waters in the rivers and streams rise, the surface ice breaks free and has the potential to create ice jams. 

Ice Jams

Ice jams, or ice dams, are broken river ice that accumulate near any river obstruction and impede the free flow of water.  Ice jams are most likely to occur during the early spring and during the first thaw.

Ice jams have the potential to create two possible flooding hazards.  First, they can block the free flow of water downstream and flood the low lying areas upstream. Then, if the jam suddenly breaks and releases, it can cause flash flooding downstream.(2)

2019 ice jam near Jay, NY on the East Branch AuSable River: Photo credit AuSable River Foundation
2019 ice jam near Jay, NY on the East Branch AuSable River: Photo credit AuSable River Foundation

On February 18, 2022, there were a couple of ice jams on the AuSable River that brought flooding to Jay and AuSable Forks, New York. 

With temperatures near 50 degree Fahrenheit, and 2 inches of rain falling overnight, the ice on the western branch of the AuSable River began to break up.  Large chunks of ice first jammed the river near the town of Jay. 

The river had already swelled with the melting snow, and when the ice blocked the river there was flooding in the town.  This jam stayed for a bit and then broke up at around 7:00 am. By 9:30 am, it had reformed down the river at town of AuSable Forks.

When all was said and done, the AuSable River crested at 8 feet above flood stage for about an hour and the town of Jay had declared a state of emergency.  At time of writing this, the town is still assessing the damage.(3)  

You can check out this story from WCAX news for more details.

Ice Block on East Branch AuSable River: Photo credit AuSable River Foundation
Ice Block on East Branch AuSable River: Photo credit AuSable River Foundation

Ice jams are concerning enough for people in the northern areas of the United States that U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has set up an Ice Jam Database and is working with FEMA on the dissemination of information related to ice jams and potential mitigation strategies.(4)

Haiku About the Season

Rising river water can be scary and flooding is something that should be taken very seriously.  However, the spring thaw is also a time to mark the passing of winter. It is time to start to think about new growth and the warmer temperatures.  So to honor the positive aspect of this time of year, we will look at a few haiku by Buson, Basho, and Issa.

Flowers offered to the Buddha
Come floating
Down the winter river.
Spring too, very soon! 
They are setting the scene for it-
plum tree and moon.
the snow on my hut
melted Away
in a clumsy manner

And finally, another classic by Issa:

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.

This time of year reminds us that nature can be both beautiful and dangerous. Therefore, we should always treat the natural world with respect. It will benefit us all in the end.


  1. GiGi Marks; “Melting”: The  Poetry Foundation, April 1997
  2. NOAA/SciJinks: “What is an Ice Jam?”
  3.  Katharine Huntley; “Ice jam flooding forces evacuations in Northern New York”: WCAX
  4. The Northeast States Emergency Consortium: Ice Jams

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8 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Earth Becomes Damp”

Add yours

  1. fits with the – short-lived – flood alert for the lane where my property sits; thinking of returning finally on Saturday –

    a migratory bird
    I return –
    soggy land

      1. I did -fortunately the active flood alert by the UK environment agency was taken down today – so I’ll get home on dry foot I expect. Thanks.

  2. I suppose I’m fortunate that I live in an area that doesn’t really flood much. I was more concerned about flooding when I lived in Salem, OR. The Willamette River flows through Salem and it has a tendency to flood. I moved back to this area (Four Corners states) in mid-January of 1996, and a week later the Willamette overflowed its banks. So, lucky me, I reckon. I loved those haiku. I’d seen Issa’s about the village flooding with children, but never his piece about the snow on his hut melting away in a clumsy manner. That left me grinning. It’s the kind of haiku I wish I’d written. 🙂 Great work as always, Mark, and this was educational as well as entertaining. 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, Glad you enjoyed this one! We currently live on some higher terrain so flooding isn’t something that we have to directly worry about. However, there have been a few times that I have been a little concerned about the roadways flooding on my way to work.
      Issa’s children haiku is a fairly commonly quoted one, but I enjoy it and makes me think of spring! Talk soon,

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